Last December, artist and writer, Alexandra Hammond asked the visitors of Performance Is Alive at Satellite Art Show, "What Keeps You Up at Night?" It was a pleasure to witness the piece in it's full 3-hour duration. Unfortunately, I did not have an opportunity to participate in the conversation because there was never an empty spot at the "campfire!" I came up with a cascade of responses as I simultaneously eavesdropped and welcomed our guests. What keeps me up... planning art fairs, worrying about artists traveling internationally, posting on PIA... I'm sure you can create a laundry list of your own and I hope you do in comments! Luckily, the dutiful ethnographer transcribed her conversations of which I am pleased to share with you here for our latest Artist Feature. - Quinn Dukes
What Keeps You Up at Night?
By Alexandra Hammond
My intention in bringing StoryHut to Performance is Alive at the Satellite Art Show in December 2017 was to create space for listening, conversation and reflection within the ebullient chaos of commerce and display that is Art Week in Miami. To create this space, I knew that darkness would be crucial. Dimming of the visual sense would help participants in my interview performance look inward in the midst of the the art fair setting, which is predominantly about looking outward at art objects and the aestheticized spaces and people who surround them. In contrast, I wanted the StoryHut Campsite to be a quiet space, an interior within an interior.
The StoryHut itself is a modified camping tent. The interior is lined with glow-in-the-dark paintings of animals, stars and Star Thistles. Viewers are invited to enter the tent, lie on the mats and listen to a fairytale about how Coyote convinced Rattlesnake to go inside the house. The story takes us from the outdoor landscape to the indoors as we follow Rattlesnake into the domestic space and enter its thoughts as it contemplates a sleeping child.
To augment the themes of sleep, fantasy, fear and the unconscious that are present in StoryHut, I wanted to take on a specific role as the host of the StoryHut campsite. This role would be that of the Ethnographer, a receptive female character who would interview visitors to the site before or after they experienced the StoryHut.
I set up a small circle of folding camp stools near the tent and put a small flashlight on the floor to approximate a campfire. I modeled my outfit and appearance after practical field researchers of previous generations such as Jane Goodall and Margaret Mead. I altered the pitch and cadence of my voice to assume the manner of a receptive host and interviewer.
In retrospect, I realize that the purpose of taking on the voice of new characters in my performances is to practice new modes of operating in the world, to literally be and converse as someone else for a brief period. This practice is activated when viewer/participants (visitors) agree to join the conversation. My intention is that the performance becomes an opportunity for visitor to exercise a variety of subject positions. Some visitors relate earnestly, while others joke around. Some speak in abstract terms, others reveal specifics of their private lives. Most switch between these codes over the course of conversation.
Below are excerpts from transcribed interviews that took place between 7 and 10pm at Performance is Alive at the Satellite Art Show in Miami Beach on Thursday, December 7, 2017. The transcript has been modified for easier reading, but the intention is to keep the spirit of each visitor's voice. I recorded the interviews, but the names of interviewees were not recorded.
In response to the question, “What keeps you up at night?”, certain themes emerged. Most broadly, an articulation of the fact that the night and sleep represent the liminal time and activity between one day and the next. Other themes included God, coffee, lists, death, money, ambition, failure, dreams, conversations, the past and the future. Notably absent from the conversations was mention of sex. It was rare that a visitor articulated current fears and anxieties in a specific way. Most alluded to “not being where they want to be” or “worrying” in general.
I am listed as “E” Ethnographer. Female identifying guests are listed as “FG”, male identifying guests as “MG”.
E: I’m very curious to know, this evening, about, what keeps people like me up at night, because I think a lot of the people I’m talking with this evening are a lot like myself. So what keeps you up at night?
FG1: Um, sometimes I’m just spinning my wheels and going over the same information over and over again, but other times, I get into that dosey state, where you can actually run a scenario and come up with a problem, and that I do like
E: Run a scenario and come up with a problem? Or run a scenario and come up with a solution?
FG1: Oh, sorry, A solution, yes. A solution to the problem. So it’s problem solving
E: I do think that half-asleep state is sometimes very productive
FG1: Yeah… Did you hear this thing, about how, they had people imagine playing tennis, and they played tennis anyway, but the weren’t pros, just enthusiasts. And then they had other people practice, for the same number of hours a day. And the people that imagined it, did just as well, in the end, like the mental exercise… And I’m like, ok, I’m not getting the studio time I need, but maybe I should just imagine painting a little more…
FG2: ...Too many things on the mind keep me up at night… I wonder if you’ve been asked any follow up questions… I’m asking a leading question… I have a question that’s similar, and I wonder if I can ask that?
FG2: Rather than what keeps you up at night, why do you get out of bed in the morning? ...I love this question and it’s one that I’m posing to people and its one that in some point in my life I want to be able to answer definitely, without doubt…
My mother asked me that, and she said she woke up in the morning for god. And we can never align on that. It’s a fundamentally different way of living your life when you wake up to live your life so that you can be good in the eyes of god versus good in the eyes of god, or do you it to be good in the eyes of people who are sharing the planet with you. I mean, that’s not why I wake up in the morning... I mean, I don’t wake up to simply live a good and moral life, but I think… her answer is… she had an answer.
E: That’s an incredible… In a way I envy people who can have that belief because it seems incredibly bold in a sense, and to have such a belief seems very foreign to me, but also as if it could have a lot of power, if you believed it.
FG2: Right, exactly. And I almost wonder, if you choose to believe that, how easy, how lucky. It almost feels like a relief to believe in something like that.
FG3: ...I think life detaches you when you get attached to a city, or a person, or a situation, life just continuously detaches you from that
E: You mean that life, makes those things that you get attached to… breaks the bonds?
FG3: Yeah. At least that’s like, my personal take on it.
E: So, you’re maybe interested in moving around, then? In keeping yourself very free?
FG3: Yeah. I would love to, like, live in the Himalayas.
MG1: Coffee… both keeps me up at night, gets me out of bed in the morning.
FG4: What keeps me up at night? Usually just thinking about the next day… I make plans and lists in my head, and I guess that’s what ends up forcing me to get up in the morning… All the lists I made the night before.
E: Do you think you remember the lists while you sleep?
FG4: I wonder. I don’t know… (to FG5) Do you make lists before you got to sleep?
MG2: The fear of disease and death, poverty… Anything that will wither me away and cost a lot of money
E: Like, meningitis, or the flu?
MG2: Cancer, AIDS, Ebola, whatever
E: Zika… I don’t think that’s actually so bad though, unless you become pregnant when you have Zika.
MG2: You can still be afraid though
E: That’s true. I think it's very easy to find things to be afraid of.
MG2: Now its just the train. What keeps you up at night?
E: Oh, lots of things, I’d say. Sometimes I’m thinking about guys, sometimes I’m thinking about work, or projects. Sometimes I’m just scared, like you were saying. Sometimes I wonder, does the worry help the problem?
FG6: No, I don’t think it does. I mean, being concerned about something might help, because then you can find a solution to the problem, but actually just worrying doesn’t do anything
E: like the conversation that’s already passed…
MG2: I think that we have almost no control over anything except for how we react to things.
E: Yes, it seems like we don’t have much control over anything but we do have quite a lot of control over what we think about.
MG2: Yeah, but thinking doesn’t do anything
E: But if thinking affects your experience in such a way, then it does do something in a sense.
MG2: Right, but if you have a conversation in the past, say, that you find bothersome, or where you didn’t do the right thing, then you don’t have any control over changing that, thinking about it doesn’t change it… I think the most skillful way, is to maybe like learn from it, and try to go do something better in the future. Not make the same mistake… I still can’t sleep though
FG8: You know, I had a strange childhood phobia... I used to have recurring nightmares of topiaries, you know those sculpted bushes to look like animals and people. That the topiaries were coming to try to kill me.
E: Were they shaped as animals? Or geometric shapes?
FG8: From what I recall they looked like dinosaurs.
FG9: Are you role playing? I mean, in your mind are you playing a role?
E: In a sense. I’m talking in a different way than I normally speak.
FG9: It is different. And you pause. You leave a lot of empty space...
E: I heard someone say recently that we’ve got two ears and one mouth, and that we should be using them in proportion.
FG9: I love going to sleep at night. I love being able to just lie there and imagine things that I’m working on. I hypnotize myself when I’m ready to go to sleep.
E: What do you mean by hypnotize yourself?
FG9: It’s deep breathing, counting and telling myself to fall asleep….I’ve been doing it for 40 years. Self hypnosis… It was a self-hypnotism tape that I bought when I was about 20.
Basically, your mind starts talking to your body with the deep breathing sort of hypnotizes your body, makes you feel that its sleeping because of the long slow deep breaths. And then you just talk to yourself. Start by saying something clichet, like, your eyes are starting to feel heavy, you feel your fingertips relaxing… then you feel your feet relaxing, and you count down and you’re relaxed more… And I talk myself through to ten, and I’m usually asleep by then.
MG4: I guess it depends… Stress, anxiety, failure
E: Failure… fearing failure, or failures that you have perceived already have happened?
MG4: Yeah yeah fear of failure and that have already happened.
E: And are you replaying them or trying to correct them somehow in your mind?
MG4: Definitely replaying them, but trying to rationalize the consequences… I guess, comforting myself that somehow they had to happen.
FG10: Um, me? Probably seeing myself where I want to be and not being there yet…
Tomorrow, I would wake up, hopefully, that would be the first part of it, because you never know. You never know what’s going to happen… but I would be able to wake up, and hopefully think of a better alternative to where I am, closer to where I want to be.
MG5: That’s probably where my mind get’s going. Where I can like look more backwards than I do forwards.
E: You look more backwards than forwards?
MG5: Definitely at night. I feel like the day is filled up with things you’re trying to do moving forward.
MG5: In terms of things that keep me up at night, its things that happened in the past.
FG11: For me it’s the future…
MG6: It’s funny how little control we have, and that worry is an attempt to gather control, which, we don’t really have much of…
FG13: We’re new campers, so we’ll sit on the ground! I was given this flashlight, so I feel like I have to use it to the best of my ability.
MG6: I’ll stay for like, a little longer, I just got here.
FG15: I have a hard time sleeping because I get paranoid about dreaming.
E: Do you have bad dreams?
FG15: I just have very vivid dreams, and they’re never good, they’re either neutral or bad. So I always stay awake trying to think good thoughts so that I don’t have bad dreams.
FG14: So I have very lucid dreams myself. And I don’t get nightmares often, but when I do, I’m always verys self-aware to the point where it almost becomes more tiresome than it is scary…
FG15: Yeah, yeah! Then you don’t get a good rest...
FG14: … But it’s extremely exhausting, so when you wake up, you’re drained… I have about five different nightmares and I relive them, since I was a little kid.
FG15: I have about two recurring nightmares that are extremely lucid that I’m aware of. And I’m also aware that its that nightmare
FG14: It’s like the same fucking movie, but you’re still playing the part!
FG15: ...And even though it’s lucid, in a lot of my lucid dreams I can change things, like I can definitely create within it, but in those archetypal dreams I have, the recurring ones, I can’t change it at all.
FG14: So there’s two types of lucid dreaming: one is when you’re active in the dream and self-navigating, and the other is you’re watching it happen. And you can still necessarily create, but you’re distant from… it’s not that you see yourself, but your mind is separate from the action.
….This is a dream I’ve had since preschool: I read the book The Giving Tree…. The same tree. I’m an illustrator now, which is somewhat ironic… It’s all olive green. Thick black outline and red accents. It’s just forests, very minimalistic line drawings of trees, very sporadic, the forest is very minimally drawn. And there are two villains. There’s a tiny character who has got a big nose and a top hat, and he’s drawn almost like Timmy the Tooth Fairy characters, like angular and small.
And there’s a big oaf-like character that’s slow. So the slow-moving character is constantly chasing me, right, and he’s very slow, he’ll never catch me. The other character, the small one, pops up in front of you and can transport himself in time and space. So I’m just running through this forest endlessly. Slow, big oaf running after me, and occasionally there are red apples falling from the trees. It’s not scary anymore, but I cannot escape this dream. It’s, very simple. But it’s strange because you’re paralyzed, you’re just watching it like a movie.
FG15: I also have those dreams where it’s like a sleep paralysis, where I know I’m resting but I’m not fully asleep. And then I’m somehow, like there’s been times when I’m pinned to a wall looking at myself sleeping and I can’t get off of the wall, and I can navigate through the wall and the ceiling but I can’t get back into myself.
FG14: Whoa. Do you feel like you’re a spirit or a form? Or are you just like, an essence?
FG15: I think more of an essence of consciousness, because I know that I’m asleep in my bed and looking at myself asleep in the bed but I’m stuck like a thing on the wall.